Culture limits baseball brawls in Japan
TOKYO — The major leagues’ first big brawl of 2022 took place between the Angels and the Mariners on June 26, in Anaheim.
The fight happened in the top of the second inning when Angels pitcher Andrew Wantz — in seeming retaliation it seemed for a Mariners’ pitcher throwing a fastball over Mike Trout’s head the previous night — hit Seattle’s Jesse Winker with a pitch on the right hip.
Winkler was furious. After taking a couple of steps toward the mound, but restrained by umpires, Winker headed toward the Angels dugout where he was met by Angels Anthony Rendon, wearing a cast on his surgically repaired right wrist, who pushed Winkler back with an open hand to the face.
Both benches and bullpens immediately emptied as several skirmishes broke out. Unlike many MLB affairs of this type where there is a lot of shoving, but mostly standing around, this time there several punches were actually thrown and some of them even landed.
The game resumed after an 18-minute delay, but with several ejections, including Angels interim manager Phil Nevin and Mariners manager Scott Servais. Twelve suspensions ensued with Angels manager receiving the longest at 10 days and Winkler, a week.
But as Mike Trout put it, the Angels’ reaction was necessary. Trout was livid after the game, certain that the Mariners were targeting him after he had demolished their pitching corps in a previous series, hitting five homers in four games.
“If a pitcher wants to throw inside to me,” he said, “He’d better aim at my ribs. Never the head.”
During the brouhaha, I noticed Shohei Ohtani in the middle of a sea of Angels and Mariners, gently holding an opposing Mariners player back and soothing him. He even seemed to be smiling, as usual.
I wondered if the good-natured star of the Angels had ever thrown a punch himself in his life and guessed ‘Probably not.’ He’s too nice.
At 6’4” and 225 pounds, Ohtani is bigger than most major leaguers. In fact, he is bigger than Muhammad Ali or George Foreman, former heavyweight boxing champions, were in their prime. But maybe Ohtani was afraid he would hurt someone. It struck me that I have never seen a Japanese player throw a punch in the United States during an MLB game.
Maybe they were just unfamiliar with how to behave in such situations in America. Of course, players in Japan in have had their differences that led to fisticuffs. Senichi Hoshino, Isao Harimoto and others participated in some memorable fights on the field and in September 1983, in Japanese baseball’s most memorable memorable act of violence and cruelty, two Hanshin Tigers coaches brutally beat up an umpire during a game.
But by and large Japanese are not as eager to engage in combat as their Western counterparts. It’s a question of good manners. It might be a normal thing for Americans to beat each other’s brains out but Japanese are expected to act in a more civilized manner.
As Japanese Hall of Famer Hiromitsu Ochiai put it, “If a beanball comes, you’re supposed to be quick enough to jump out of the way.”
By contrast, gaijin players in Japan have never been shy about fighting. In 1986, Dick Davis of the Kintetsu Buffaloes charged the mound and slugged Seibu Lions pitcher Osamu Higashio over an inside fastball that hit him in the elbow. Warren Cromartie punched Dragons pitcher Masami Miyashita in the head over a hit by pitch, in 1987 in Nagoya. Both players were fined and suspended and roundly condemned by the press. Davis quipped: “My only regret is I didn’t hit him hard enough.”
Years later in retirement Cromartie and Miyashita met on TV and shook hands. Miyashita presented Cromartie with his name card; it had a photo of Cromartie’s famous punch to Miyashita’s head.
MLB players have certain rules about brawls. Everyone must rush onto the field to show support. Whether they actually hit somebody or not, it is necessary to appear as if they are doing something. It’s mandatory. It’s another of the unwritten MLB rules You can’t just sit in the bullpen and watch.
There have been some memorably serious brawls in MLB. One of the most famous came on Aug. 22, 1965, at Candlestick Park, when Giants Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal went after Dodger catcher John Roseboro with a bat. The two teams were in the midst of a pennant race. Both teams had their aces on the mound, with the Dodgers starting Sandy Koufax.
Roseboro, the Dodgers’ catcher, routinely threw the ball back to Koufax in the third inning. Unfortunately, Marichal — who was batting at the time — thought Roseboro was intentionally trying to hit him on the throw back. A fight ensued during which Marichal whacked Roseboro in the head with his bat several times. When the fighting stopped, Roseboro was dripping in blood.
All time strikeout king Nolan Ryan, for his high-90s fastball, hit White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura on Aug. 4, 1993. Ventura started for first but then something snapped and he charged the mound. The 46-year-old Ryan dropped his glove and caught Ventura in a headlock as he came charging in and rained several quick blows to Ventura’s head. A bench-clearing brawl ensued. However, Ventura would not quit. He was able to take down Ryan and avoid any major injury. Ryan stayed in the game and pitched the Rangers to a 5-2 victory.
On Aug. 12, 1984, the longest and nastiest brawl took place between the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves. It started in the first inning when Braves starter Pascual Perez hit San Diego second baseman Alan Wiggins in the lower back. The two exchanged words. Padres starter Ed Whitson then attempted to hit Perez in his first trip to the plate. Both benches cleared, but no punches were thrown.
Then, in the fourth, Perez was thrown at again. Whitson and manager Dick Williams were ejected by the umpire. Reliever Greg Booker tried to hit Perez again in the sixth, but was unsuccessful and ejected.
In the eighth inning, reliever Craig Lefferts drilled Perez in the elbow and the major brawl ensued. Many punches were thrown, the fans even got involved and more players were ejected. The ninth inning featured more hit batsmen and more fights, highlighted by Goose Gossage beaning Donnie Moore. The Braves won 5-3.
Finally there was Ten Cent Beer Night in Cleveland when the Indians left their dugout en masse to defend the visiting Texas Rangers from their own fans who had stormed the field.
Sometimes it’s necessary to have boxing skills to be a successful major league player. Not so much in Japan.